Weeks after the shock announcement that millions of Facebook users had their data harvested by Cambridge Analytica in 2016, we’re still feeling the ripples of the incident. Facebook is feeling it, too, and the founder and CEO of the social media giant recently appeared before a US congressional committee to give testimony into the events.
Closer to home, Facebook recently announced that some South African users were also affected by the incident. According to Facebook, 13 South African Facebook users downloaded the app that was used to gather data. The app in question, YouDigitalLife, was developed by an academic from Cambridge University, Aleksandr Kogan.
While the 13 local users only account for 0.004% of the app’s total downloads for the duration of its lifetime on the platform, Facebook further stated that 96,121 people were also affected by the app’s data harvesting due to them being friends with people who had downloaded the app. These figures, outlined in a letter from Facebook to the South African Information Regulator, highlight the reach that some companies have in terms of accessing information about Facebook users.
While Facebook is taking notable steps to ensure that data harvesting on this scale doesn’t happen through third-party apps again, it has made it abundantly clear that users very often do not read the terms and conditions of an app before signing up for it. When the affected users signed up to use YouDigitalLife, they gave their consent that the company could gain access to certain information, including their friends lists.
If your information was stolen by Cambridge Analytica, you would have already received a notification of this, urging you to change your account’s privacy settings. If you haven’t noticed any notifications in this regard, you can have a look here.
Even if your information was not compromised, it might be a good time to take a good look at the privacy settings on your account anyway. A good start is to disable all third-party applications that you aren’t using. Learn how to do this here.
Also – and this will take some extra effort on your behalf – make sure what you’re signing up for by reading the terms and conditions of an app before you sign up for it. You may willingly be sharing information that you wouldn’t share otherwise with companies that use it for everything from targeted advertising to academic research. In the digital age, personal information has become a valuable product and a commodity, and it has become the user’s responsibility to make sure they’re not unwittingly paying the price.